In To America brings arts, conversation into middle schools

This spring, a grant from the Performing Arts for Youth fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region helped the Fox Cities P.A.C. bring the arts into classrooms of five middle schools, including some who don’t often have the opportunity to engage with the Center.
In To America, a touring production put on by Griffin Theatre Company of Chicago, had plans for an April 25 Bemis Company Education Series performance, but ahead of that show, five cast members arrived in the Fox Cities to bring their powerful message to middle school students in Tigerton, Gresham, Hilbert, Appleton and Neenah.
This residency was designed to reach schools that have not had the opportunity to engage with the Center on a regular basis due to distance or other barriers. It also engaged local schools that showed interest in diving deeper into the topics the show explores.
At each stop they performed an excerpt from the show, which features the stories of immigrants to America from Jamestown to present day. Monologues feature stories from men, women and children from all walks of life and backgrounds and provides a reflection on their difficulties and celebrations of creating a new life in America. After the performance, students had the opportunity to ask questions and have open discussions about history, diversity and the commonalities we all share while celebrating our unique differences.
“The kids have done nothing but talk about the experience today. Other teachers are hearing the stories in their classrooms. I am writing up a blurb for the social studies/English teachers so they know what areas of immigration were covered to stir conversations,” said Cindy Easter of Gresham School District where seventh and eighth graders were part of the experience.
For Wilson Middle School, it was a chance to preview the performance and start conversations before viewing the entire show later in the month.
“(The residency visit was) very intimate, educational and the kids go a lot out of it!  They learned so much and now are more prepared to view the full production because their background knowledge was increased,” said Appleton Area School District educator Shayne Porter.
For Tigerton and Hilbert, the cast stayed to participate in theater games to further explore the arts as a way to tell stories and work together. And each school was ultimately most affected by different parts of the engagement. For many, it was the stories in which they could see themselves, their friends or their educators reflected in that made this experience such a impactful lesson to remember.
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